Name of Media:

What we know about the long term consequences of getting COVID-19


Andy Larsen

Publisher or Source:

The Salt Lake Tribune

Type of Media:

Newspaper Article

Media Originally for:

General Public

Country of Origin:

United States of America (the)

Primary Focus of Media:

Post Intensive Care Syndrome (PICS)

COVID-19 Related:



Sometimes it seems like every article about the coronavirus is trying to scare you.

That’s especially true for articles about the long-term impacts of COVID-19. They tend to start the same way: introducing you to someone whose life was terrific before the virus and terrible now, due to some unexpected remaining symptom. There’s a transition sentence — “But Chad isn’t alone” — telling you that other people have this happen to them too. Doctors are interviewed about how likely this is, studies are referenced to the degree possible. Finally, the article returns to Chad, who just wishes he hadn’t gone to that get-together where he caught the virus in the first place.

Stories like this grab your attention, then fill in the details. But I think sometimes they can lack context, too. If we zoom in on one tree, we can miss some pretty important facts about the forest.

So how do we describe what we know about the forest? I found the format of a Reddit post really helpful, which riffed off of something then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld once said. We can split up the forest into known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns.

• Known knowns are the things we know about the forest through careful observation and study.

• Known unknowns are the things we know we need to learn more about the forest. A cloud might be covering an overhead view, so we need to send an explorer over there to find out what’s going on.

• Unknown unknowns are the things that might happen that we aren’t even considering. A giant meteor might strike. That’d change our opinion of the forest pretty drastically.

Just over six months since we discovered the coronavirus, we can use that same approach to discussing where we are in terms of discovering its long-term impacts.

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